Reclining Head of J.Y.M. oil on board 33 x 27.5 cm. (13 x 10 3/4 in.) Painted 1974/75
PROVENANCE: With Marlborough Fine Art, London, where purchased by the family of the present owner
LITERATURE: William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, no.348, p.276 (col.ill) Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames & Hudson, 2000 edition, no.207, p.205 (ill.b&w)
Reclining Head of J.Y.M., painted during 1974-75, depicts the sitter in profile and is the first of four similar oils. It is the smallest and arguably the most abstract of the series. J.Y.M.'s head rests on a pillow, represented by two deft, diagonal strokes of black paint. Below this the paint has been scraped back to reveal areas of the board, in contrast to the thick impasto of her face. Juliet's salient features are represented by Auerbach's characteristic broad, singular strokes of the brush and her shoulder by a block of thick black impasto lower left. Inside the outlines of the face the artist has used a technicolour of pigments which merge seamlessly with one another, giving the features such as the nose and cheek a life of their own.
Auerbach first met Juliet Yardley Mills when she was working as a professional model in the late 1950s at the Sidcup School of Art. She was depicted with such regularity and persistence through the following four decades that Juliet became one of the most frequently rendered figures in portraiture of the post-war era. Indeed, perhaps no other individual has been scrutinized by an artist so closely, over such a prolonged period, as J.Y.M. Her name, however, does not appear in the titles of his paintings until 1963, J.Y.M in the Studio (Private Collection) being the first such instance. The final chapter of this relationship appeared in Auerbach's Head of J.Y.M. III (Private Collection), painted in 1997. This dedication to his subjects, becoming as intimately involved with them as possible, was one the artist had absorbed from his teacher David Bomberg during his earlier student days at the London Borough Polytechnic in the late 1940s and early 50s. Considering his unrelenting commitment to portraiture there have been relatively few sitters for Auerbach over the last half century and only two other models, Estella West (known as E.O.W. in the titles) and his wife Julia, are presented to us in abundance.